Given the circumstances in Washington, D.C., Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should be given a chance to follow through on his pledge to protect America’s federal lands.
FINDING a member of President Trump’s cabinet to root for is difficult — it’s a frightening assemblage of cronies and ideologues — but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a contender.
Unlike most Trump agency heads, Zinke respects and appreciates the mission and values of the organization he now leads.
Washington state will be watching closely to see how Zinke manages beloved federal lands, national parks, monuments and tribal relations. The federal government owns 64 percent of the state’s public land and 28 percent of its total acreage.
No doubt there will be vehement disagreement with some of Zinke’s decisions, especially around resource extraction.
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But he deserves a chance to prove that he’ll manage the agency fairly and follow through on his pledge to protect America’s priceless public assets now under his care.
A Montana native and outdoorsman who considers himself a “Teddy Roosevelt” conservationist, Zinke attended the University of Oregon and served as a Navy SEAL. Most recently Zinke represented Montana in Congress.
Several members of Washington’s delegation said they respect Zinke and welcome his Western perspective in the administration but expect there will be clashes.
Sen. Maria Cantwell voted against Zinke’s nomination because of his mixed voting record on environmental issues and concerns that he’ll cave on protecting federal lands and monuments.
“He’s going to be right in the middle of it — he’d have to be supernatural in a lot of ways to stand down some of these Republicans who are demanding we give back public lands,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, said Zinke is “going to listen” but “I won’t say we’re going to agree on everything.”
One positive sign was Zinke’s call to use some of Trump’s infrastructure spending on the $12.5 billion backlog of maintenance at national parks.
Zinke should also command more respect from ranchers hostile to federal grazing fees and regulations, such as the armed radicals who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last year.
Resolving this festering rangelands dispute would advance Zinke’s goal of restoring respect for the Interior Department. It should also build overall respect for the value of federally managed lands.
Zinke is now the nation’s highest-ranking advocate for those lands.
He should get strong pushback in some areas and be held accountable. But given the circumstances, it’s wiser to give Zinke a chance than reject him out of hand because he doesn’t have the emerald environmental credentials of his predecessor, former REI CEO Sally Jewell.
Jewell wasn’t considered for the job with Trump. Sarah Palin was, so let’s hope for the best from Zinke.